Article on Child sexual abuse
- POSTED BY: Mahesh Bhagwat mmbips@...
Subject: Article on Child sexual abuse
Predators on the prowl
Tuesday August 26 2008 00:21 IST
It is a crime that happens all the time, almost everywhere, but it rarely seems to register on anyone's radar. Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is much more common than people believe. Last year, in a study of over 17,000 children from 13 states, the Ministry of Women and Child Development found that over 50 per cent of them reported facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.
The abuse of a child involves a manipulative process that traps the victim in a secret relationship designed only to provide sexual gratification to the predator. Despite greater awareness today, the common perception still seems to be, 'it doesn't happen in my home', or 'it just happened once'.
The trauma suffered by 35-year old Rakesh in his school days shows how abusers never stop with one child. "My dad was diabetic so he couldn't play with me." His father had heard of a coach who trained boys for free in volleyball. "The training started when I was in class six. From the first day, my coach became my hero."
"After training, he would always make me sit on his lap. Now I know that he would get an erection whenever I sat on his lap. But at that time, I didn't understand what it was. To me, I was just happy that my coach thought I was special," Rakesh recalls. The coach was a regular visitor to the family. When Rakesh's father had to be hospitalised, he stayed in the coach's house until his father returned home. Rakesh recalls that the coach made him scrub his back in the bath. Worse things happened, he says.
"I was too terrified to go back there and refused to attend training." His older brother Ram, however, continued training until he reached high school. It wasn't until Ram was in college that Rakesh could talk about it. And what they discovered was shocking. "Because I had stopped training, coach used Ram the same way," he says with tears in his eyes.
Rakesh learnt that some of his teammates in school too suffered the same fate. "Nobody blames me for not telling. But I can't help feeling that if I had told someone, maybe somebody could have stopped this. I feel ashamed that I let it happen. What's worse is that he sodomised my brother and other kids repeatedly for many years." The last he heard, the coach had moved to another country.
Vidya Reddy of the Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, Chennai says she has never heard of a one-time offender. "Abuse happens repeatedly. More often than not, the abuser is from the family or a friend of the family. Until we stop protecting the abuser, he/she will never stop."
"If an incident of sexual abuse in a school, for instance, is reported, the management may fire the abuser," Vidya adds. "But what's stopping him from getting a job in another school in the same city or another city? Many schools don't do background checks or crosscheck credentials."
For every case that is reported, many others go unreported. "We get almost a dozen calls every day, but in the end the victims are too scared to file a report," says a volunteer at a help centre.
Another problem in the effort to check this phenomenon is getting a verdict. "When the report is filed, the abused is a child. By the time the case comes to court, he/she is an adult," reasons Pooja Taparia of Arpan. "Trials take a long time and they're well into their adulthood, also shouldering societal stigma."
Vidya cites an incident in Chennai. "The lady is the principal of a well-known school in which abuse was reported. She told me her son was getting marriage proposals and if the intended bride had been sexually abused, she would not accept the proposal. To say I was stunned is an understatement."
Often, children conceal the fact of abuse to protect a loved one. "There was a girl who was abused by her best friend's father. Whenever she visited her friend's house, the father would fondle her," says Pushpa Venkatraman, counsellor and trainer at Arpan. "When she informed her friend, the girl implored her to not complain." The reason her friend gave was that her parents were always fighting and something like this would only make it worse. "The father abused the daughter too, hence the fights between the parents. Can you imagine this child's condition?"
Sometimes the abuse takes place with adults in the same room. Vidya highlighted the case of a swimming coach who fondled children while teaching them, in plain sight of parents and guardians all around the pool.
"Many parents stopped sending their children to this coach. But just because you stop sending your child to this particular person, it doesn't mean he'll stop what he's doing. Adult offenders never stop with one kid."
School authorities play a significant role in educating children and parents on sexual abuse. "The parent-teacher associations should evolve a specific sex education programme," says Pinki Virani, author of Bitter Chocolate. Parents need to educate kids by answering questions about body parts. "We use every word other than the simple biological ones for penis, vagina, breasts and anus. If you don't use the right words you cannot teach your child the difference between a 'good touch' and a 'bad touch'." For the cases that are reported, identification and prosecution of molesters presents a serious dilemma to lawyers and activists.
The recent acquittal of the two Britons accused of paedophilia by the Bombay High Court in the Anchorage Shelters case shows that a new law needs to be formulated to handle CSA effectively.
Maharukh Adenwalla, the lawyer who represented the boys in this case, says the yardstick to weigh an adult's statement in a court of law should not be applied to a child's statement. "How can you expect children to be as coherent as an adult? Going through the trial is traumatic enough."
A case in point is Sakshi v. Union of India (2004). The child was gangraped when she was 10 and the case came to trial when she was 13. "The cross-examination lasted three days. She had to repeat the incident in the courtroom in the presence of the accused without a counsellor. In CSA cases, video conferencing should be encouraged with a counsellor present."
CSA cases are often tried under the rape law (Section 376) that says the perpetrator has to be a male and the victim female. The age of consent is 16. "The major weakness of this law is that only penile penetration is considered a grave sexual offence," says Geetha Ramaseshan, activist-advocate, Madras High Court. "The crime is considered lesser when it is oral, or through penetration with an object. If the abused is a boy, there is no law under which a case can be filed."
In the absence of a clear law, and with convictions so difficult to get, it is no wonder that the abusers feel secure enough to continue their spree.
"why doesn't my family believe me?"
"My music teacher would slap the insides of my thigh when I hit a wrong note," recalls Latha, a working woman in her thirties. "He used to eat paan and slap my thigh. He would then rub his stained fingers on my panties. He would not move his hand for a while. And every time I sang a wrong pitch, he would pinch my vagina."
The reason for such a punishment was that she was his best student and he was doing this for her own good.
Where was her mother? "My mum is a homemaker. She didn't have anyone to help her. The only time she could buy vegetables or run errands was during my music class."
One day, when Latha cried out in pain while she urinated, her mother asked if she had hurt herself while playing. "I told her 'master pinched me'. The next thing I remember was a stinging sensation on my cheek. She slapped me and warned me that if I ever lied again about him, she would complain to my maths teacher."
The abuse went on until Latha became a teenager and refused to train under him. "He used to come home every year for Diwali and Onam till I was in college. I told my family about everything but even now nobody believes me."
He stopped visiting for a while when her boyfriend, after listening to her ordeal, threatened him with 'serious bodily harm'. "When physical intimacy with my boyfriend became a problem, I told him everything. He made me realise, over a period of time, that it was not my fault and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. But somehow I can't help feeling that my family betrayed me. I don't understand why they continue to welcome this sick man to our home."
The Ministry for Women and Child Development conducted a study on CSA in April 2007 with a sample size of 17, 220 children from 13 states. Among the results were
More than 53 per cent of children reported facing one or more forms of sexual abuse
The majority (52.94 per cent) of victims were boys
50 per cent of the sexual offenders were known to the victim or were in positions of trust (either family member, close relative, friend or neighbour).
Onset of abuse was as early as five years in some cases
Boys were equally at risk as girls
73 per cent of the victims were in the 11-18 age group
Delhi reported the highest abuse among boys — 65.64 per cent
A study by Tulir (2006) among 2,211 school children in Chennai, revealed:
CSA prevalence rate of 42 per cent
15 per cent of both boys and girls had been severely abused.
48 per cent of the abused were boys and the prevalence rate among girls was 39 per cent
Mahesh Bhagwat IPS